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Peter Higgins 00:19
Hello and welcome to this Investing Matters Podcast. My name is Peter Higgins, you can find me @conkers3 on Twitter. And today I have the huge privilege of speaking with Holly Mackay, entrepreneur, multiple award-winning founder and managing director of Boring Money. Holly has worked in finance for around 25 years, including corporate roles at Merrill Lynch, Aviva, Santander.
And Holly is a financial expert, highly sought after commentator, keynote speaker, independent investment expert across investment markets and a champion for clear communication. Holly, thank you so much for joining me on this Investing Matters chat today.
Holly Mackay 01:01
Thank you Peter. Yeah, felt a bit like I was on This Is Your Life as you were reading that description out. It's not how my children would describe me. It's nice to have nice things said about me, Peter, thank you.
Peter Higgins 01:13
Oh, lots of nice things to be said about and it’s the reason I’m speaking with you today.
Because lots of things have been said about you. And you've won awards for your work.
So it's fantastic to have you here Holly, I want to start this conversation really, I want to go all the way back to the household you grew up in, because I want to build this picture.
And I know it's going to resonate with so many people about the tenacity and the perseverance and determination that you had, from a very, very early age to get you to where you are now.
And the fact it hasn’t all gone smoothly for you.
And you're here, absolutely thriving, and doing so much good work. Okay, so can we start with that the household he grew up in, your dad was an accountant, your mum ran her own business – start from there.
Holly Mackay 01:53
Yeah, it's funny. It's sort of looked back. I mean, the first thing to say is, if you'd asked me as a kid, would I ended up working in the world I work in today, would I do anything to do with money or finance? It would have been absolutely not Peter. I mean, I was in set four at one point for maths at school, which I was quite cross about didn't think it was fair. But there you go, there I was.
But like you say, I mean, I think now looking back, my mum was an entrepreneur, but we didn't call them entrepreneurs in those days, she just ran a business, she ran a catering business.
So, kind of growing up at the weekends I used to help her to get my pocket money. It was in the 70s, I remember cutting up lots of cheese cubes and putting cherries, gherkins, you know making the coloured wheels, so that was my job.
And yeah, my dad was an accountant. But really, he didn't talk to us much about what he did for work.
And we didn't talk about money very much as a household growing up. So I went off to uni, chose to read languages, you know, so I didn't grow up, kind of actively thinking a lot about money. But looking back, I guess I always did jobs that had my mum who ran her own business to learn from. So I definitely think I was much more on the kind of commercial side of finance rather than the sort of theoretical side of finance. And that's probably still true today.
Peter Higgins 03:21
Excellent. But what I loved about it was that you held down this Saturday job, you know, it's like as a youngster mum's trying to drag you into doing all these, you know, making things for events, and so on, so forth. But you think, alright, I'm getting pocket money. So you invest in it, so you carry on doing it. And that seems to have worked for you because you ended up earning a scholarship to secondary school.
Holly Mackay 03:43
Yeah, I’d forgotten that Peter.
Yeah, yeah. Well, I think I think remembering the family and actually my parents all credit to them.
There was never any pressure. I remember just one day it was like, do you want to have a crack at this Holly? So I sort of did the tests. And yeah, gosh, I haven't thought about that for absolutely years, but it was quite swaty as a kid Peter.
It all went wrong a bit when I went to uni and I became a bit of a wild child, but at school I was quite swaty. I did work quite hard. I wanted to do well for myself. And I did have these jobs. You know, after my mum sold her business I worked for the local pub, sign of inflation. I got two pounds an hour which felt like an alright deal at the time.
In the in the kitchen, making sandwiches.
So yeah, I always had paper round, Saturday jobs sort of work for my mum worked for pubs, various places.
So I have always enjoyed earning some money and being able to sort of spend it on things I wanted.
I can't claim to have been a great saver as a teenager. I'd like to paint that picture but it wouldn't be true. I kind of earned, got my money, got it in my hot little hand and went out and bought stuff.
Peter Higgins 04:56
So the stuff that you bought as a child was that music or clothing?
Holly Mackay 05:03
Mostly is sort of the odd, I sound really old now LP So I'd go to sort of not WH Smith, Woolworths so that was a pick and mix, rara skirts, Peter if you if you know what they were. LPs over those sorts of things. So yeah, I liked I liked fashion I liked music I liked all the sort of typical teenage stuff.
But yeah, I wasn't a great saver I have to say.
Peter Higgins 05:33
Okey dokey. So did things change when you gained your place at Oxford Uni of all places from Somerset to Oxford Uni that must have been a big game changer – meeting all these different people who I suspect many of them are very wealthy, you know?
Holly Mackay 05:47
Yeah, I definitely looking back now I'm really pleased. And grateful. I went to Oxford because of the people I met when I was there, who many of whom I'm still friends with today.
And they're really amazingly interesting people doing interesting things today.
But I didn't really enjoy it when I was there. Because I felt like such a fish out of water. I mean, I remember getting there in this college and looking around and I was quite young, I'd only literally, that week turned 18. And it just seemed to me that everyone else was much more confident they'd all had gap years in Thailand or whatever and done all this exotic stuff, there was a gang of people who'd been to the posh schools in London.
So I definitely sort of felt like a bit of a second class citizen when I went there in a way I hadn't before. And I'm not sure I ever got over that, Peter, when I was there, it was a very daunting place to be.
And of course, looking back now I suspect pretty much every other 18-year-old there felt the same as I did.
But when you're 18 at the time, you just assume everyone else is amazingly competent and confident.
And you're the only one struggling but I did.
You know, I partied quite hard. I didn't work so hard. In my first year, I failed my prelim exams.
And that was a real wake up call for me. And that for me, I think suddenly made me think oh my god, because I've not failed exams before.
And I suddenly went, what the hell is going on?
Come on, Mackay get a grip. So I worked really hard that summer, and kind of got back onto this sort of more even footing, but I do remember and fairly strongly feeling quite inadequate there.
And like everyone else was a bit smarter, richer, more confident than I was, which of course wasn't the case. But it felt like that when I eighteen.
Peter Higgins 07:48
It does. I mean, this is the beauty of reflecting, isn't it, you know, we look back and we see things completely different now, but it's all part of our growth. It's all part of our path, and journey.
Holly Mackay 07:57
And I think as well, it does give you a sort of empathy.
We'll move on and talk about what I do now.
But I like helping people with understanding things, I like I think I'm quite sensitive at spotting when someone feels uncomfortable, or a bit inadequate.
And of course, that's what finance does to most people. If you talk to anyone about money, they'll very quickly get into a narrative. Most people are saying, oh, but it's probably just me or I don't understand that or I'm not rich enough.
So I guess maybe talking to you looking back, you know, perhaps for some of the seeds, there are sewn of the empathy, which I hope I bring to the work I do today because I know what it's like to sit somewhere nodding politely but underneath, oh, my god, I'm lost.
Peter Higgins 08:50
Absolutely, absolutely. I love the fact you touch on the fact that you've had quite a difficult first year and you've, you know, failed some aspects of coursework and that was your wake up call for you.
But you went on to attain your degree in modern languages at Oxford University. What were your plans then?
You know, did you have a vocation or sights set on doing something? You know, having got the degree?
Holly Mackay 09:12
I don’t really know, I wanted to go travelling and in a way that's why I did languages, because I like, I find people so interesting and I like talking to people.
I like different cultures. I like different languages. I like different places. I wanted to go to South America. But none of my mates were in a position to go travelling, they either didn't want to or they have jobs lined up or it wasn't their thing.
So I went to Australia instead as a sort of a warm up act because it was quite far away, but not as scary as South America.
So I definitely didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't have a vocation at all. And that's typical. I think someone with a languages degree and, and I did a thesis in Medieval French, for God's sakes. I mean, what that sets you up to do in life? I'm not quite sure.
Pretty niche, right? So no, I wanted to go travelling and that's what I set up to do pretty quickly after leaving uni.
Peter Higgins 10:17
So you’re backpacking, you're in Australia, and then you for some other reason other than, you know, languages, maybe you get into media work.
Can you explain that transition for me, was in case of you as a backpacker, you've got very little money to take on whatever jobs you can?
Holly Mackay 10:34
Well, I did my years backpacking. And then a week before I was due to come back to the UK, I went to my leaving party with a friend of mine and met a guy who you know, and then obviously sort of fell head over heels in love and stayed out in Australia.
And then when I was there, I was like, right, what am I going to do, and I really wanted to make documentaries, again, back to that interest in people understanding them what makes them tick. So I set out sort of to try and start working in TV.
And the sad reality was Peter, you know, in Australia, there's no money in telly. I mean, literally, no, they buy a lot of stuff in from America from HBO at the times, they make the odd, quite bad sketch comedy shows sorry Aussies but it's true.
And there's quite a lot of sport. So I set out in that world to make, you know, groundbreaking sort of human interest documentaries, had to learn my trade.
And it took me a sort of fair while of realising after sort of years of being a production assistant on a form entering pretty bad shows that I just wasn't going to get the break that I wanted, because there's just not the money in the industry out there to do it.
Peter Higgins 12:00
So what then transpired then because you became then laser focused on a change of path and move into what essentially was finance then?
Holly Mackay 12:10
If someone charted this on a on a graph, it would be the most wiggly line to finance.
So in Australia, sort of, gosh, when I tell my kids that they can't believe it, the only way really, I've communicated with my family was we'd have the weekly, very expensive phone call and there was the old fax weren't really emailing them, and certainly not WhatsApping or anything like that.
And so we used to have these hour long calls, and I'd have a lot to chat to my mum about that. It was hard communicating with my dad, you know, I love my dad to pieces, but he's a retired Scottish accountant.
And you know, and he's not the most emotionally sort of forthcoming and when you're a 20 year old woman, and you're on the phone with the dad like that, you kind of going what we talk about.
And he'd always talked to me about the stock market. And he made loads of money on now we can't remember to this day, we still talk about it. It was either Uruguayan copper or Filipino nickel, or possibly Filipino copper.
I can't remember something like that. And he was talking about this money that he had made and I kind of remember thinking, I want a piece of the action. So I went and did some research. And I bought again, I can't remember if it was Uruguayan copper or Filipino nickel, or something.
And I tried to beat him and I didn't.
But that became a bond for us. And it became something we both really enjoyed. And we'd have these little wagers and it became our thing.
And that's what we talk about and really sort of connect over and so I started to test the waters and start to dabble with these investments. I mean, one of my first investments was Call Warrants. I can't believe it now I you know, I bought Telstra Call Warrants for about 21 cents.
And luckily, luckily, luckily, I remember selling them about three days later for 24 cents, but I have loads of these things.
I've made loads of money. So I was one of the I'll talk about my failures in a minute Peter, but I thought I was the world's best investor. This was easy, you know, Wasn't it fun?
But this is how I connected and sort of really to talk with my dad so I guess I got the bug and I got the bug by having skin in the game and very luckily for me the first few dabbles I did quite well on, there is a but that comes later but that you know it was that connection so it's really my dad I have to thank or blame for me getting into the finance industry.
But I loved it. It's looking at that little ticker and still today you know when you look at it, there's so much more there than just numbers or graphs you I sort of go into the sometimes the London Stock Exchange and you look at the board and all these flashing lights and numbers moving. And you know behind those numbers there are millions of people all over the world. Kind of with hopes and aspirations
or being greedy or being scared. And so for me, it's that sort of, that's what I love about it is the sort of human story behind it. So maybe Peter, if you look at it in that way, it's not such a sort of step so far removed from the documentaries. I was interested in that human nature, part of human nature.
Peter Higgins 15:54
Absolutely you know, psychology of the markets, really what you see on the boards is beyond numbers, isn't it? You know, so much more to it.
Holly Mackay 16:02
I always think I did a sort of piece I wrote a piece on this once, if you ask people to imagine the stock market as a human character, so imagine this some weird Tim Burton film or something, and someone has to play the role of the stock market.
Most people would say, well, I think I would envisage that as the sort of an older man in a suit, possibly with slightly greying hair. I when I think about the stock market, it would be a pantomime dame shrieking all over the place, drama queen, wouldn't it sort of going… oh, the oil price is down! Sell! you know, I love it, because actually, I think it's much more about psychology, and human, very basic human instincts than it is anything to do with charts and mathematics.
Peter Higgins 17:01
Absolutely, the fear and greed of the markets is events, and its impacts so many parts and aspects of our lives. It's a staggering, you know, and even more so now with our politicians getting into the space even more so on a daily basis.
But we'll get onto that a little bit a bit later on Holly, we've got to touch on that a bit later on. I want to start now and talk about that journey in finance, 1999 - 2000, Merrill Lynch, maybe not so glamorous, as many people might have thought.
Tell us some details about the first roles and the tasks that you were asked to do, please Holly?
Holly Mackay 17:34
Oh, it was it was awful, because one thing and it makes a lot of sense. But in Australia, they're very vocational. So if you want to work in finance, you aspire to go to Monash University or Melbourne University to read economics. So this concept of some kid who'd worked in tellie who done Medieval French, could just sort of rather confidently write someone like Merrill Lynch a letter, I'm going to be a fabulous asset to your organisation. No, they weren't buying it at all.
So my first job, I am determined, and I am stubborn. So I was right, I'll show you but my first job was then Salomon Smith Barney Asset Management, and then turned into Citigroup now don't exist anymore.
Oh, it was awful, as in the accounting and tax group. And I had to do unit pricing Peter for the fund managers.
And I basically had a big Excel spreadsheet, and I had to go and pick up faxes off various machines and enter, I don't know, the data from cell H23 into another sort of cell somewhere.
And it was, you know, $15 an hour sort of temp role. And that built my way up from there. But I'm not a natural member of an accounting and tax group team, Peter, it was pretty, pretty soul destroying, but you know, needs must and then after nine months, I got a job working for AXA Australia at the time. And then for me, the big break came because when I was at AXA, I looked after the Merrill Lynch, kind of customer base, we had a sort of joint venture with them.
And they ended up hiring me. And that's when I got to meet the team there, some brilliant people, really smart people, I love working there, and sort of started to learn about asset management. And that was the start really, of finding my feet and actually doing a job I found interesting, but it was a bit of a bit of a hard slog to get there.
Peter Higgins 19:55
Brilliant. I love that. I love that story. I love the fact that you've just navigated all the little riptides, or, you know waves that came your way and then made it to Merrill Lynch. But within that you also have to then, you know, touched on it just to go away and apply yourself and get a graduate diploma in, in Applied Finance.
Is that right? Because you need to do that in order to do that work. Am I right in saying that?
Holly Mackay 20:18
Yeah. But also I wanted to understand it. I wanted to, you know, just get the ground in because I guess I'd done all the sort of donkey work sitting there putting numbers in spreadsheets.
And it was very boring. But you know, once a day, I'd go to the Fund Manager with the unit price I'd worked out, got investors hoped it was right. And I’d ask them questions about what they were doing. And you know, so I had a five or 10 minute slot every day, there's this chap who ran the fund and he was really nice to me, and we'd have a wee chat so I wanted to understand it better.
So that's part of sort of signing up for the course. But it was all very logical. And so I sort of specialised sort of took the main sort of courses in in asset management. And so it joined the dots for me because I've sort of been in this world but operating at the periphery, certainly not glamorous roles, but it started to sort of all make sense. So I quite enjoyed doing that course.
I enjoyed every module Peter, with the exception of the technical analysis module, which to me still these days, something I just don't understand drawing all these funny pictures and patterns on charts and thinking you can predict what's going to happen. I could argue the toss for hours with people about it, but I remain a healthy sceptic about that, I think. But every other module I really loved.
Peter Higgins 21:51
Fair enough. So, after that time at Merrill Lynch, what came after that, Holly for you?
Holly Mackay 21:59
Heartbreak, Peter. So this is this is where the story then brings me back to England. So after seven years of aforementioned chap, that I sort of met in Australia that that sort of blew up rather spectacularly. And I wanted to come home, I was extremely homesick had been extremely homesick for a long time. So very quickly, sort of within six weeks, really, I was back in the UK.
And started out sort of back in the UK. Gosh, I remember it sort of landing at Heathrow Airport at five in the morning, age 30. With no job, no boyfriend, no belongings, because they were all in Australia. And my lovely mum and dad came to pick me up from the airport. And I remember feeling like such a loser.
I was like, I'm 30. And I'm oh my god. So it was it was a pretty sort of brutal readjustment that I was so pleased to be home, Peter, it's very hard living on the other side of the world, you know, you miss out on all those little family trips, the sort of birthdays, your friends, weddings, I've been very, very homesick.
So despite all of this sort of, you know, literally landing back in the City of London and knowing no one at all in the financial space. I was thrilled to be home again.
Peter Higgins 23:37
So that's around late 2003, mid 2003. Maybe. So you started effectively from scratch. Really?
Taking on consultancy roles and work.
Holly Mackay 23:48
It did feel like that I was sort of like goodness me sort of starting from scratch.
And it's sort of, you know, at a time when when other sort of friends of mine were getting married, or they were getting more senior roles.
Again, it was a bit of a sort of kick in the guts that I had one thing that was sheer bloody luck.
And that is because of compulsory retirement savings in Auz, they used these things called investment platforms, which is what I'd worked on over there that were only just starting to sort of come to the fore in the UK.
So, for anyone who's been investing since 2003, they might remember when Fidelity they were one of the first groups to open up a sort of investment platform for DIY investors. And luckily for me, that was my thing.
That was my subject matter expertise, for once in my life, right place, right time landed back in the UK when everyone was going, Oh, God, what are these investment platform things? Someone go out to Australia and investigate them? And I was like,I know about them!
Peter Higgins 25:03
Oh, wow. Amazing. So how did that develop them? Because obviously, you're doing these different roles, you end up at Abbey National / Santander in 2005. So that must have been you doing a lot of work then and now seen as being an expert in this particular niche where know what nobody else was?
Holly Mackay 25:19
Well, it was like I say it was right place, right time.
And one thing that I started to do then, as well as talk to the media, which I've never done before, had no media training or anything, but I used to quite enjoy talking to journalists.
And of course, it was hilarious. I've never worked at a bank before. And banks get very, very nervous when people talk to the press.
So they want I don't know if you've ever experienced this, but you sort of try and have a conversation with someone you turn up and there's about three minders in the background.
And people will want free rehearsed questions and scripts and everything. And that wasn't really my style.
So the journalists loved talking to me and it took I think the then Abbey National a while to sort of work out who's this new woman that keeps talking to the press? But that was that was a first for me and I really loved that. And yes, I would speak at conferences, go out and talk to people, and so rapidly built my network. And also, you know, looking back it was really social back in those times when I look now at younger people that work for me, they don't go out like we used to, we were out kind of two or three nights a week, we sort of go out and meet people for drinks.
It was a really good time in the City of London, it was very social.
And because I've just come back from Australia, I was single, I didn't have any kids, either Peter, so I could go out and kind of mingle and get to meet people. So it was quite a whirlwind time. It was a busy time, but I you know, I loved it. I met a lot of good people in this industry.
And I think to this day, those connections, you know, having that network is so crucial, I think in industry you operate in and that network of people that you like you trust, you sort of grow up with, you see them get promoted, they see you sort of do better, and it's really lovely, I value that a lot.
Yes, but for me, that was definitely quite a happy time of finding my feet and going I’m now on this path after sort of years of various setbacks. I'm enjoying what I do. I know quite a lot about it. And I'm good at talking to people about it.
Peter Higgins 27:43
I mean, you're clearly very good at what you did, because they decided, you know what, I'm ready now to do something for myself, you know, and then you went on to set up The Platforum, if that's the right pronunciation. In 2008, you decided it’s my time now I'm going to develop something that I believe in.
Holly Mackay 28:03
Yeah. And I think, you know, that was the time when Santander acquired Abbey, and I didn't enjoy the environment. I won't say too much about it. But it wasn't a great environment for me to be in. So sort of post-acquisition by Santander, I didn't have a very good time, I'll just leave it as that.
And I just remember one point, just getting to know what, stuff all this stuff, this hierarchy and stuff, all these, oh, you know, the performance management rate, just that's not my bag, you know, and all the hoops you have to jump through and the politics and the god knows what, and I just had a gut pull.
So, I was like, right. And I didn't even really know, when I was setting up The Platforum, I didn't have the big master plan, Peter, I just saw, I'm going to do some consulting and I'm going to write.
So I started to write a weekly blog, it wasn't called a blog in those days, it was just an email, I sent once a week to people, but I was quite cheeky, and how I wrote it. And it was very different, I think, to what was out there at the time.
And I wrote about our space in the in the investment industry, and it was aimed at financial advisors and practitioners. So it was a sort of B2B publication, and it just did really well.
People liked it. I think it was a different way of writing about this industry. Most others out there then was pretty stuffy and staid and frankly, really boring.
So I just injected a bit of hopefully personality and sort of humour into it. But I wrote my way, and I did it in my style. And it all kind of grew from there. You know, people started to read it, they'd recommend it to their friends. So I sort of built this this audience of people and sort of built the business off the back of that .
Peter Higgins 29:59
So your Oxford degree came to some use, then - Modern Languages and Literature came to the fore?
Holly Mackay 30:05
I mean, yeah, the definitely the storytelling and the enjoyment of that, but being able to do it in my way. I'm not sure the sort of Oxford part of it. I don't think I'm right today.
Like, I'm not very academic, I would say I'm much more street smart, Peter. So I don't think I write like, I'm certainly not a great intellectual.
But I like writing a good story.
Peter Higgins 30:35
That's brilliant and independent thinking as well, which is, which is brilliant. Now I want to talk about the first bit here of The Platforum, and your first event, because if I'm right and my research is correct, you just had your first child then?
Because I'm just thinking, you're pregnant. When you go, I'm going to come up with this new idea.
And then your first event you think your child have been born a couple of weeks and thinking, wow, are the people and your parents must be going Holly?
Holly Mackay 31:02
Yeah. My mum was like, what the hell are you doing? I remember when I just thought it was fine.
You know, because babies, you sort of think, oh, they sleep all the time.
And they'll just sort of sit in a corner somewhere. And of course, you don't realise that you won't have slept from for two weeks and blah, blah, blah. And so we had this conference, and I remember just going oh, well, we'll do it two weeks after my due date, that'll be fine.
And so mum and dad were booked come and sit in the green room. We had it at the QE 2 Centre as well opposite the Houses of Parliament.
So it wasn't a small little venue either and so the green room, which is normally for the speakers, and that was bombproof and soundproof because it's where a lot of the politicians that conferences, so none of that for any of our speakers, they just had to go and sort of look after themselves. The bombproof / soundproof green room was for my two-week-old son and my parents.
And I remember turning up for that morning, I got out of the black cab outside with my bugaboo. Oh my god, what a rip-off and my two weeks inside, and the security guards didn't know what to do. And I sort of walked up and I wouldn't I didn't fit through the sort of metal detector thing. And they were like, who are you? And I said, well, I'm the chair of today's conference.
The look they gave me it was so funny. Like, okay, scary lady, get out of the way, come in.
Peter Higgins 32:41
Now, clearly, you went from strength to strength Holly, with the Platforum, it grew rapidly, it created an appeal, and you had some sort of zeitgeist because it just went like that and grew and grew and grew. And then you receive almost three years later, an unexpected phone call, do you want to share that story. And what happened?
Holly Mackay 33:01
So I was walking along, I remember the south bank of the River Thames, going to see a client, not my favourite client, a roomful of kind of people who didn't want to make decisions, so trumble, trumble, along I go, the phone goes.
And it's someone on the other end of a phone from Centaur Media who are a B2B publisher.
And very quickly, they sort of said, well, we're very interested in your business and what you do.
And they started to talk about the potential for an acquisition.
And I remember sort of the person I was talking to sort of said, so this is how it would work.
Let's say for example, we agreed to give you X.
And they named this for me astronomically large figure. I remember absolutely, you know, when you have those moments, and it's almost like everything around you goes into slow mo, and you're going and stay cool, stay cool.
Don't blow it don't sound excited. Just pretend this is just like speaking to boys on the phone, you know, whatever.
But I remember hanging up and sitting down literally on this wall on the side of the River Thames.
And I won't tell you the precise words going through my head.
But I was like, holy moly, because it just never occurred to me.
Being an entrepreneur, again, wasn't the thing that there wasn't a name I wasn't I just sort of set up this business and did something I've loved. And I've grown a following.
And yes, we were making better revenues.
But I wasn't tapped into that entrepreneur. Now. I think everyone that sets up a business is super aligned to the world of sort of VCPs sort of crowdfunding valuations wasn't like that, then.
So yeah, I mean, that phone call. Yeah, I remember it that that feeling in my stomach of like, oh, oh, God, but not being able to show that I had to be cool, Peter.
Peter Higgins 35:06
Well, this is it. I mean, that the fantastic thing is that, you know, you've had that journey, you've had the highs, the lows, the production side, maybe decided not going quite where we want it to go having to come back at 30 feeling a bit, you know, your words, a bit of a loser, you know, going back to your parents, and then you set up your own business.
And in three years, someone's giving you a phone call saying we want to buy your firm for this significant amount of money.
So game changing amount of money, but you they tell you in as well. You've got to do a three year earn out. So you still there within the firm?
Holly Mackay 35:41
Yeah. Yeah, I did. Yeah, that that three year earner. And I have to say they were really good acquirers.
And I think, you know, the deal made sense. When they talked to me about it, it was a really good combination.
Sometimes you think about firms acquiring others. And you think what, I'm not quite sure why they're doing that, it doesn't seem to make sense. This was a very logical deal. It sort of worked very well. And I was very grateful to them, actually, because they gave me a good space to grow the business within, but they really left me to get on with it.
So I had a good time doing that, that three year earner - no sort of horror stories to report, hit the sort of targets at the end of the three years.
And it was a hugely positive experience. And I sort of felt like, you know, I left on a bit of a high and something that gives me pride today is that businesses still going still operating, still sort of doing a lot of good work in the sector. And that's, it's really nice to see.
Peter Higgins 36:42
Brilliant, brilliant, now we're in 2015 now, you set up the award-winning platform Boring Money. And I think it might go back to the early days when you're doing boring tasks, because that's where the title came from, for the name of the platform?
Holly Mackay 36:57
Boring Money. So this was, I really now wanted to do something to talk to, not to a B2B audience, but to talk to the person on the street, right and just tackle this problem that finance is such a key part of all of our lives.
It's an enabler, it brings us choices. It can bring us happiness, it brings us peace of all of these really key things, and yet it's so poorly understood and people feel so disempowered about it.
And I knew I wanted to do something. But I didn't want to do just the same old. I hate it when the industry just bangs on about wanting to educate people, and they all make it the consumers fault and listen more and read more.
And I've always thought, no, it's on us the industry explain it better. It's not customers’ fault, they find us, you know, baffling and confusing.
So I wanted to do something that felt very different. And I did a little bit of a fossick around looking at what there was.
And everything out there was so earnest Peter, all of the names that people call things about money.
They were all very, very earnest and everything but all just a little bit, I don’t know, they didn't have any edge.
And I remember running through Hampstead Heath that’s where I used to live near.
And I used to go for my runs there. I was going, why are we so why do people call it that?
Because if they were honest, what most people think about money is boring money. And then that made me laugh. Because it's quite I like cockiness towards authority, and I thought that was quite funny and cheeky.
And then I remembered also that George Soros had written and I think this is absolutely wise and spot on: good investing should be boring.
If you're enjoying it, you're probably not very good at it. I think it might have been a bit softer than that.
So there's a bit of a sort of Boring Money's doing two things.
One is it's acknowledging with people, and almost sort of saying it's okay to think this stuff's boring.
Most of it is really boring, we'll help you try and navigate that.
But also, there is a bit of a sort of theme there sort of trying to say to people, yeah, be careful of getting a bit too cock a hoop and interested and a bit too thematic and a bit too tradie because it'll probably go a bit wrong if you do.
Peter Higgins 39:20
Absolutely. No, that's a great quote from George Soros as well. Now, can you give us an overview of Boring Money, the platform, all the different services as well, including the conferences and some of the courses you put on as well, please Holly?
Holly Mackay 39:32
Yeah, what we're trying to do is to help people make better choices.
So for consumers who come to our site, last year, we had about a million people on the site.
And the majority of us them are coming to us for help to pick an ISA or to pick a pension, or to pick a fund.
So, they're coming to us for help in making some of the financial choices that they're making out there.
So really, what the sort of site does, it's a bit like the sort of financial love child of TripAdvisor, and Which? so the TripAdvisor bit is we've got, I think, nearly sort of 10,000 investor reviews at the moment of various providers on the site that's important to people, because there's so little trust in financial services out there, I can always say to people that you don't trust us guys, you can take our view out of it and just read what thousands of other investors have got to say about this.
And then the Which? element of it, I guess, is we got a research team and analysts team in house who are sort of putting all the providers through their paces.
So, you know, I've got I think it's about 30 test accounts with various investment platforms and providers, because it's amazing how different some of them look, once you're a customer, and you're off that flashy, nice looking sort of website, when you're actually sort of in the proposition under the bonnet, it's quite often a different experience, I think, to be able to write about it well, to be able to talk about it to be able to help people, it's a big deal, you know, people trust us, I hope to help them make better choices.
So I think we need to know what we're, we're talking about. And the way to do that is to, you know, walk a mile in their shoes to have these test accounts.
So the main sort of tenet Peter of what we're doing is to help people make better choices. The other side of the business we have is we do research and analysis for people in the industry.
Because we understand consumers so well, because we see what people are reading what they're clicking on what they're reviewing what they like, we provide the voice of the customer to the industry.
And so we help the industry with research to understand their customers better, and to gently nudge them to make tweaks to make changes, change their pricing to change their documents, whatever it might be. So that they're delivering better products and services to their customers.
Peter Higgins 42:12
Indeed, I often see you quoted on various different media outlets, and also on various programmes regarding the research that your team has, has done.
So that's absolutely fantastic. I wanted to touch maybe just quickly on that you have a research panel as well, where you have investors and savers are part of that panel.
How would this one become a member of one of your panels maybe to share their insights as the panel's views?
Holly Mackay 42:37
For people, please join us, and we pay people on that panel sort of market research rate.
So you know, it can be a nice side hustle for people.
That's really key to us sort of Peter, because we do a lot of work with providers.
And actually, what's increasingly interesting to providers, particularly fund managers, is we're able to tell them, because of this panel of investors, we have what their customers really think of them.
Why did someone buy your fund? What were they hoping it to do? Are they pleased with that? Do they think you're doing well, in terms of I don't know, sustainability, or value or performance, whatever it might be? Do they understand your factsheet?
So there's a range of different things we can do. But that is the sort of key growth, ambition for the businesses that as we grow our community of people who come to us for information and insights, we're also growing, we call them the Boring Money Army, I love them.
And there's this group of people that we can reach out and say, hey, we've got this project for whoever it might be.
And some of the more involved projects, you know, people can earn a couple of 100 quid from sort of helping us as with that, so if people want to check out the Boring Money Army, it's a key part of what we're building.
And it's really our way of aggregating providers customers and holding a mirror to them and saying, guys, this is what people are saying about you. So when you're planning your improvements, your changes, there’s voice of the customer.
Peter Higgins 44:18
Absolutely. And it's been going phenomenally well, Holly, I wanted to sit down on the corporate side, because obviously, there's lots of different entities across the investment industry, that tap into the very research that you do.
And you mentioned, your research team, and your analyst team, you've got some very, very skilled individuals working for you.
Holly Mackay 44:38
And I think that the research is we're trying to help positive change.
And for example, I launched a report this morning on pensions, looking at that, you know, a quarter of people who earn 70 grand a year or more don't have a private pension.
Now, when I take a sort of stat like that, and I look at it, and I look at the increasing tax burden on everyone, and the fact that pensions are one of the last legit games in town to sort of bring that down, there's so much we can do with that stat sort of Peter.
So we can go to the industry and say, guys, you're missing that that's three quarters of people who earn over this aren't your customers, why not, you've got to, you've got to do more to tell them about the benefits of these pensions rather than you know.
So that's, that's something we can do with that fact.
But it enables us also to go out on our site to sort of people and make sure we're addressing that audience of people, for example, and breaking it down and being really clear with people, not just, oh, guys, here's another problem.
But the important bit after that, and here's some things you can do about it. So, for me, what's so great.
What I love about working at Boring Money is when you sort of you sort of sit in between the industry and people that buy these products, and you can use information, you collect information and insights from your community from your users.
You use that to help the industry understand them and make better products. But you can also use those insights to help you make sure you're talking to your readers about the things that really matter to them, and about the things they should be focusing on that will make a material difference to their wealth, and trying to do that in a really targeted way, Peter, so not just going, I mean, here's another thing and here's another thing, and no, you're rubbish, no one does this, but sort of going and saying, right, because we know this about you.
We think here are three things you should focus on this year and making it feel accessible rather than overwhelming.
Peter Higgins 46:55
What I love listening to what you just said there, Holly, it's just clear to me how passionate you are about this.
And it's clear that the industry has recognised that as well.
Because you are one of the voices that they go to when they want some deep research done and quality of work done.
And I love the fact that that was recognised last year for you and your team when you won Investment Woman of the Year for small to medium firms at the Investment Week's Women Investment Awards 2022.
So tell us what that meant for you and your team because you know you're doing all this hard work is recognised but not recognised, but surely then it's like you've got the plaudits now you've been awarded that accolade?
Holly Mackay 47:37
I'm awful at winning awards, Peter, because I tend to sort of go oh well, it was nothing and then sort of go back to work the next day and go right what's the next thing that's broken that I've got to fix? I'm not really sort of prone to going home and pouring myself a glass of champagne and patting myself on the head and saying well done me.
It is though, there's our there's loads of things I thought about that award one was just bloody hell wow, right?
Because you run 100 miles an hour, and you don't really expect these things.
So, it was a really nice accolade. And as you say, for the team as well, you know, there's, there's 25 people with me at Boring Money who work bloody hard.
So kudos to them, I'm in two minds about that award, part of me wishes we didn't have the need to have investment Woman of the Year award.
So, you know, in a way these awards success will be their demise, there's a little ferocious sort of part of me that just wants to be investment Person of the Year, or not at all.
I don't mean that to sound ungrateful, or I acknowledge what they're doing and the changes, it's helping to create.
But I do have that little bit of voice inside. I don't know Peter, I'm not very good at taking compliments.
So I haven't, I don't dwell on those things very much.
Because I guess I have that inner voice that's always proven to do the next thing. And they'll probably be people listening to this who do all sorts of wellbeing and mental health who will be going oh no Holly, you're going to burn out and everything, but it's just not my modus operandi.
I don't tend to sit down ever. And sort of go, oh, well done. Wasn't that brilliant? I'm always there's always something ahead to think about and to work towards. So I'm not very good at you can tell now because I’m blustering…
Peter Higgins 49:43
I can tell. But the beauty of it is really is that just prior to going into that very event, you chose a particular eau de parfum to wear. Do remember what that was by Tom Ford? You can say the name if you want to.
Holly Mackay 50:00
This is what I lovely women I work with who's one of my kindness supporters and I went out for lunch with her.
She also runs a small business a lot bigger than mine, actually.
And it was my her little present me and it's called Fucking Fabulous.
And actually smells really nice. And so I put that on.
Gosh, I'm embarrassed that you saw that. The funny thing about that as well, Peter, is that my 13 year old daughter that goes into my bathroom the whole time and tries to nick any expensive stuff.
I don't have much. I'm not really into makeup and all that stuff. And she knows I've got this perfume.
And so she knows she can say it to me to my face.
And because she's saying something's name. I'm not allowed to tell her off. So she loves every chance she gets coming in and talking to me, preferably if her friends are in the room about my perfume.
Peter Higgins 50:53
Brilliant. Now, I'm going to try to bring it back to the core of what we're talking about. Now, Holly, pensions - you know, it’s got a massive issue here.
I saw you having a lot of josh with Merryn Somerset Webb recently where the question was, does everything in the UK come back to pensions in the end? You know, how do we ensure the best outcomes regarding planning and saving for financial retirement? What should be the best way of going about it Holly?
Holly Mackay 51:22
We’ve just got to be realistic with people, Peter, so it comes down to I think, is having the right conversation with people at the right time. There is no point in talking to people in their 20s and honestly about how much they should be putting into a pension because they just won't do it.
Okay, what maybe the conversation to have with them is saying the best thing I can do for you, if you're in your 20s is just get you to open one up and put a tenner in.
And then the purists will go, oh, but 10 pounds isn't enough because compounding now and blah, blah, blah. Forget all, that if we can just get them to open one up and put a tenner in and just spend a year just experiencing it and what it's like then in my book, that's a success. You know, when we look at people 45 to 54, we know people in this age bracket incredibly time poor, they're juggling, they're doing a million things.
So it's got to be really clear, succinct, action based tasks.
And too many people still don't get the key sexy thing about a pension Peter, which is tax relief, but that sounds really boring. But actually, if you say to someone, do you want to know how you could with no risk turn £800 pounds into £1,000 pounds tomorrow, and it will take you 10 minutes?
Then they're like, oh, yeah, maybe. And then oh, by the way, if you're a higher rate taxpayer, you can also reduce your tax bill, you know, when you come to put in your tax return by another £200.
So I think it's just you know, rather than going out and going pensions and sending the same message to everybody and talking about tax relief, I mean, who wants to open an email the bangs on about that.
It's about making it relevant. And it's about kind of not bombarding people overwhelming them and just saying here's one thing guys that actually it probably does feel achievable.
It's just little steps, isn't it? It's like, it's like every January, the first thing I do that makes me feel better is I buy some new gym kit, the first step to getting back into the gym, that kind of works, right? That you just have to take that first step.
Peter Higgins 53:43
Fantastic. I love that getting the gym kit every January. Fantastic.
Now you're very passionate about financial education, Holly, and one of the I saw one of the tweets on your profile, saying that, from one of your Boring Money readers, I'm old enough to know better, but I'm not old enough to know what to do.
And that reader said that their age was at the time was 45 years of age. What would you do regarding the financial educational curriculum? What would you add in there to ensure that somebody who's now 15 doesn't get to 45 and not know what to do?
Holly Mackay 54:21
Not make maths compulsory back to my earlier sort of Peter, it's kids are commercial.
Kids understand money, and they are interested in it now.
Now my kids have become probably because in a way they've been forced to, but they know a little bit about investing.
And I've set up Junior ISAs for them. And the way that I got them interested in it, because you imagine when I started, they were like, oh my god, it's mummy. It was like when I was, you know, they were little and I'd be on Sky TV or on BBC News.
And they wouldn't turn over from whatever they were watching to watch me say that. Oh, boring mummy stuff.
But then I remember saying to my son, did you know in this fund I bought for you, I explain what a fund was, you own a bit of Apple, and you own a bit of Samsung. And in one fund, you own a bit of Nintendo.
Because he's got a Switch. And he loves the Legends of Zelda right? And it was so funny. I showed in this factsheet I sort of went well, here's the fun bit. And this funds got 7% in Apple. And he looked at me and he went, Oh, very sweetly said, so do I own 7% of Apple?
I wish I said! No, if Apple were a person, you'd probably own a million for one bacteria on one of their eyelashes.
But it's fine because you own a bit of Apple. So I would bring it alive with kids. There's no point in doing too much as the theory is there. But it's explaining that essence of investing it gets them into it.
You know, and things like eBay is great. My 13-year-old daughter's, you know, practically eBaying the entire contents of our house at the moment because she's sort of worked out. And she loves all the negotiations and the counter bids and the offers. And so children are commercial.
I think the problem is there's a lot of financial education programmes being done. They're not being done by the right people. They're being done by the finance companies. They don't make stuff that young kids want to do. It's that simple.
Peter Higgins 56:43
Indeed that is the case. And we saw not only just young people, but young adults and adults per se.
There was a surge of DIY Investing and during lockdown 2020 to 2021.
What have you found since that period Holly regarding the assets or interests of those investors because you know, we saw a lot of people going into the Bitcoin did have didn't understand it.
So a lot of people go into small caps, didn’t understand it. How’s that moved on since 2020 Lockdown?
Holly Mackay 57:14
Definitely things have calmed down.
So if we look at the new kind of DIY investors coming into the market that's slowed down in 2022.
And it's slowed down again in 2023. So that that sort of spike of interest that we had has come down.
The thing I was quite sad about what we saw during lockdown is we know that for some people if they get burned on their first experience of investing, they'll never invest again.
So I do think there is you know, there are a number of people that we've just lost, but that went too big on thematic investing that went too big on a few sort of tech stocks, you know meme stocks or crypto whatever it might be so a lot of people got horribly burned down because of the age old mistakes we've all made right lack of diversification chasing stuff getting greedy blah blah blah.
Not remembering George Soros going good investment should be boring.
So you know we've seen it's calmed down there are a few new people coming to the market new investors, but there are a lot burned investors from the sort of lockdown years.
Also he also of course by just the strong performance of us tech stocks and those are always more appealing stocks for investors we like brands we've heard of, we like brands that we like using, but there are quite a lot of victims who lost, you know, a fair chunk of money they couldn't afford to lose as a result.
Peter Higgins 58:58
Absolutely. I love the fact that you touched on earlier about the educating of young people, but I think could also be utilised the same skills with educating all adults, you know, to say that, if you invest in this fund, you've got a slice of Apple, you've got a slice of Nintendo. I think that's, I think that's where we need to go back to ensure that the platforms utilise, you know, the research that you use, and educate people of all ages.
Holly Mackay 59:22
And it's bringing it to life.
And we've seen that to some degree.
That's what made sustainable investing until everyone got worried about greenwashing.
That's another thing, but sort of back in 2001, there was a spike in interest there.
Because it's easier, I think, with sustainable investment to make the connection with the tangible thing you're investing in than it is with other sort of forms of investing.
So but I definitely agree with you, you know, even when you look at workplace pensions, one in five people don't know that the money in their workplace pension is even invested in the stock market. And then many more people sort of haven't got a clue what it's invested in.
So just imagine if we pulled out a few key brands or stocks that they may have heard of, that they might find interesting and go, hey, you guess what, you own a bit of that. And I think when you've got that skin in the game, everything becomes more interesting, doesn't it? Because you've got that kind of oooh... there's a reason Dragon's Den and The Apprentice and all these shows are on primetime telly, we're commercial, we love it.
We're nosy we, we want to own a bit. We want to make more money. And there's just that disconnect and I kind of think how the hell does this investment industry take a subject which is so enthralling and engaging, and turn the handle and produce sometimes their most turgid boring stuff? You think God, no wonder no one wants to open that letter?
Peter Higgins 01:01:01
Well, this is where you come in Holly, you come in bringing a face to it, bringing some animation and some theatre, and some just jargon free communication.
Holly Mackay 01:01:14
I hope so Peter, I mean, that that is our aim.
And that's what we're working hard to sort of build to take the message out there to people and to grow and, and we're doing well.
So, you know, fingers crossed, we keep growing and keep helping more people to make better choices and keep helping the industry to make better products and services. That's the goal.
Peter Higgins 01:01:38
Indeed, I mean, so you're independent. So when it comes to the like, trust issues, you've touched on ESG investing have been that been on the wane, you're doing the research, you've been entrusted with the research to provide knowledge for everybody. And people can entrust you with what you've found. That's probably the best one for me, or that's the best platform for me to go about investing. So that's the beauty of what you're doing.
Holly Mackay 01:02:03
It's really key and it's key.
That's the thing that I'm most keen to preserve is the trust that people have in me. You know, that's quite a position of responsibility.
And I think the whole team that work with me, everyone's really bought into what we're doing. And believes that because the second that we lose that trust, you know, that the business just implodes. It's it really is key to everything we do.
So it's, it's probably the single biggest thing for me, whatever I'm doing is, is that what I would say to my little sister, is that what I would say to my kids’ teacher, telling it as it is as uncomfortable as that can be, sometimes it's just being really straight with people and not forgetting the importance of what you're talking to them about. And that that trust is so important. And people bandy the word around a lot, don't they, but I think, particularly corporates, they're very good at talking about it.
The problem is with trust is it's such an individual promise, I think it's very hard for corporates to maintain that across such an army of people. It's easier for groups like ours, where I'm the CEO, at the end of the day, I call the shots, I hire people, and it is something I'm very passionate about.
Peter Higgins 01:03:32
Okay, I want to just income encompass all of this now and talk about your personal investing. You talked about trust and importance of it. Who do you entrust your money with? What's your strategy for investing your wealth?
Holly Mackay 01:03:46
I don't buy individual shares because I like a good story. Too much Peter. I'm terrible. I get greedy.
I've kind of every time I buy shares, it just goes a bit horribly wrong. So I don't buy individual shares. I have about half of my money normally invested in a very low cost passive multi asset fund that's as boring as it gets. I've typically hold something like the Vanguard Life Strategy range, I've got quite a long sort of timeframe.
So that will be as 100% equity in the past is how I manage my money. What I have done, it's such a weird environment at the moment, Peter.
And I just think the outlook is so uncertain. My sense is if you look at the impact that interest rates have had on consumers, it's very hard to see. And you can see people tightening their belts, you can see inflation starting to fall. And I think, you know, a recession, whether that's with a capital R or a small r is probably on the cards.
So the stock market for me looks alarming a little bit at the moment. Short-term UK bonds have been a very good deal, in my opinion.
Now, this summer I bought and I've never bought bonds before, because I've always found them really boring, like really too boring. And they have been boring for quite a long time.
But this summer, I looked at sort of short-term UK treasuries, which are just short term bonds from the from UK Government. So pretty safe, and you go, okay, these things mature in January 2025.
So I know that's worth a pound on that date. I can buy it today for 92p, and I know the government's going give me 100p back in about 15 months’ time.
So that to me was like, hang on, I know, I'm going go from 92 to 100.
And that timeframe. So suddenly being in the stock market didn't feel like a very good sort of bet to me.
So, unusually for me, I've got quite a lot in UK government bonds. And my stock market holdings are more, you know, I've got some in India, and I've got some in Japan, but I think it's going to be harder for people to find long-term returns than it has been for the last decade, I think we're going to have to dig a lot harder for the truffles than we have done for a long time.
And that's obvious at the moment, right? Because if NS& I are offering people 6%, the stock market has to work bloody hard to persuade people to take a pump with their money in such an uncertain time.
If that risk free rate is sort of 6%. Now that will change, right? But, but my portfolio looks very different. If you'd asked me, about a year or two years ago, I was pretty much all in shares. And I was just riding that lovely bull market that went on forever. But I think we're moving into quite a different environment.
Peter Higgins 01:07:27
Thank you for that reply Holly. I think you you've said it so wonderfully as well. The importance of looking at the markets and looking at the macro, and not just looking at them at the stock market. In such a blinkered way. It's important. I think, not a lot of investors do that often enough. It's like a bought this stock. I've been told I've listened to Buffett, I've listened to that person. And it says, Buy and hold forever, but occasionally, but look and reflect and change your mind and change your strategies, according to the markets.
Holly Mackay 01:07:55
You do. But this is quite a unique time for me and normally about in December every year, I normally get journalists from the main sort of papers go and what are your picks for this year?
And I sort of laugh because for about a decade, I mean, sorry, guys, and if it's not very newsworthy, but just look at what I said last year, you know, just a diversified bag of global shares.
This year, it is different. But you know, as you say, the interest rate environment we went from sleepwalking didn't we for sort of 10 or 15 years and suddenly bang there's this massive wake up call.
So I have shifted and yeah, you know, it's not doing my street cred any good because I used to be in shares and they were cool. And bonds were boring, but whisper got quite a lot in bonds at the moment.
Peter Higgins 01:08:53
Holly, thank you ever so much for being on this Investing Matters Podcast with me, I've got one final question for you.
Because I'm conscious of that you're here for a little while. And I'm going to give you the power and the autonomy to do whatever you want with this power.
And so my final question to you is if you could change one aspects for the betterment of every individual on the planet we call Earth regarding investing or life what would that be and why?
Holly Mackay 01:09:23
Oh, blimey, everyone on Earth. I'll keep it to money because that's the focus of what we're talking about today. I think it is the power of ownership. I would give people at what age I'm not sure not at birth probably at 18 or something. I would give them ownership of some sort of business I would give them ownership or a slice of some business which they could relate to, which was regionally sort of near to them or which felt tangible in some way.
And I would say that they had to hold on to it for 10 years or something before they could sell it.
But just that sort of sense of here's something for your future, and you will have it and by having this thing you will understand about that really core concept that you know of what investing is at its heart, because that does get people interested, it does get them bought in.
And I think the act of doing it for them is really important because it removes procrastination as well, Peter, so yeah, it'd be some sort of thing that people would get age 18 which would give them a slice of the action of some company that meant something to them and give them a little pocket of wealth for the future that was theirs. That meant something to them.
Peter Higgins 01:11:03
Fantastic reply. I love that reply. Thank you so much, ladies and gents that was entrepreneur, multiple award winning founder and managing director of Boring Money, Holly Mackay, Holly, thank you ever so much an absolute privilege speaking to today.
Holly Mackay 01:11:18
Thank you, Peter. I think I enjoyed it, I mostly enjoyed it, very forensic. I feel like I've been on the couch with a sort of therapist. I'm going to go lie down now.
Peter Higgins 01:11:30
Thank you ever so much Holly, and I look forward to seeing you face to face as well. I'll come to all your conferences at some point.
Holly Mackay 01:11:35
Peter Higgins 01:11:38
Take care. God bless you.
Holly Mackay 01:11:40
Thank you Peter.
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